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City plans $3.6 million upgrade at Watertown ice arena

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The proposed $3.6 million upgrade of the nearly 40-year-old Watertown Municipal Arena could include a new lobby, ticket booth, press box and offices, and bigger and better locker rooms and restrooms.

For years, city officials have talked about completing some major improvements at the facility at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, citing increased use and a need for more space.

The project is listed in the city’s $39.9 million, five-year capital projects budget.

Seven firms with expertise in sports venues were contacted by the city’s Engineering Office to submit proposals on how they would approach designing the project. Four firms recently toured the facility and had until today to submit proposals. The Watertown City Council will choose which one to hire.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner said the consultant will determine how to go about completing such a large undertaking.

“They are going to come back with how best to use the facility,” she said.

In February, council members informally agreed to go forward with the project when they were briefed during a work session. It also is expected to be a part of budget discussions next month when council members consider the capital improvements program.

The design work would be completed this year, with the project possibly starting next year, City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk said.

The venue hosts the Thousand Islands Privateers minor-league hockey team, figure skating and youth hockey during the winter and concerts and myriad other events throughout the year.

After talking to the four consultants, Mrs. Gardner said she envisions expanding the building out from its front, where a ticket booth and state-required restrooms and piping for RV hookups at the fairgrounds would go. She also said she hopes the Privateers get a new home team locker room, including such improvements as more space, a warming room where spectators can view the action on the ice and new administrative offices, party room, entrance and lobby.

City Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, a longtime supporter of the ice rink, said the work should have been done a long time ago. Some of the work was included years ago in previous capital plans, he said.

“I think everybody agreed to let’s get it all done,” he said Thursday, noting that different aspects of the project must be planned out well, so it doesn’t interfere with activities and programs.

Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns said the cramped locker rooms and inadequate restrooms have been an embarrassment for years, especially since many of the arena’s users are from outside of the city.

“We really need to spruce it up,” she said, noting its use has increased over the years.

The project also would include repairs to the roof and its trusses. For several years, the roof has been plagued with leaks during heavy rainstorms.

The concrete floor and fire suppression system also would be replaced. A back parking lot might be expanded. All of the work would be funded through a 15-year serial bond, with projected debt service of $56,250.

Two years ago, the city upgraded the concession stand and took over its operations from a youth hockey organization. As separate projects, the city plans to replace the 35-year-old bleachers at a projected cost of $450,000 and construct an arena storage building at the fairgrounds for about $265,000, both of which are slated to be completed this year.

If the city proceeds with the project, it would come at a time when the Parks and Recreation Department has taken on a new management team and put emphasis on improving and expanding programs.

The venue was built as an open-air hockey arena in 1975 and was enclosed two years later. Over the years, the city has discussed adding a second sheet of ice to accommodate increased use from youth hockey and other organizations. In February, council members nixed that idea, questioning its $4 million cost.

The Capital Projects Plan for 2013-14 also includes spending:

n $90,000 to rehabilitate the city’s snow dump platform along the Black River.

n $200,000 to replace the roof of a pavilion and restroom at Thompson Park.

n $150,000 for the city’s annual sidewalk replacement program.

n $150,000 on improvements at the Department of Public Works facility on Newell Street.

n $240,000 for new equipment to eliminate ice blockage at the city’s hydroelectric plant.

n $800,000 for three new dump trucks, a tractor and refuse packer.

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